First, a question: How did Kansas let that happen?
On Monday night, West Virginia’s Juwan Staten covered the length of the floor in less than five seconds, hitting a spinning^ layup that beat Kansas^^ in the final moments inside WVU Coliseum.
^ We’ll get to the spinning part, which may have included an extra hop or step.
^^ Yes, we know Perry Ellis had a point-blank layup on the other end, too.
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First, though, the main question: How did this happen? Kansas coach Bill Self was wondering that very thing after the game. So let’s start with West Virginia’s play call. Moments before the final possession, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins subbed sophomore Chase Connor, a 40 percent three-point shooter, into the game for the first time.
Kansas’ Wayne Selden was guarding Connor; Mason was on Staten, the Mountaineers’ leading scorer and senior leader; and Jamari Traylor was guarding the man in-bounding the ball on the base line. In the huddle before the final play, Self said he instructed his players to switch every screen, and he also warned his players about keeping the ball in front of them.
But Self also told Traylor, guarding the in-bounds man, to help deny Staten the ball. Here’s Self’s comment from the game story.
“He made a nice play, but we couldn’t defend it worse,” Self said after the game. “A situation like that, you got to keep the ball in front of you, and it’s my fault. I told Jamari (Traylor) to try and deny him with Frank (Mason), and he got behind Jamari and he got behind Frank.”
If you watch the play, Connor sets the pick on Mason, and Staten gets a full head of steam, curling at an angle to receive the ball while leaving Traylor chasing from behind.
“I’m upset,” Self would say again, “because we let Juwan get behind us when that was our whole game plan — keep the ball in front of us. So that’s on me.”
There were a few mistakes here, and Self seemed inclined to shoulder a lot of the blame. But here are a couple other things that stand out.
1. Selden was guarding Connor, the man who set the screen for Staten. But Selden drops back, out of view and on the other side of the court from Staten. If Kansas was to switch every screen — though perhaps Self just meant ball screens — shouldn’t Selden have switched over and stopped Staten from getting a full head of steam?
2. Kelly Oubre, standing near the top of the key, appears to miss an opportunity to shade off his man and force Staten to pick up his dribble or pass.
3. Perry Ellis, for a moment, appears to get to sucked toward his man in the corner, leaving the basket wide open.
There were multiple mistakes made by Kansas in the final seconds, which is probably why Self appeared extremely upset and frustrated after the loss. But first and foremost, according to Self, the Jayhawks did a poor job of keeping Staten in front. Even before Ellis missed his open layup attempt in the final seconds, Kansas had an opportunity to close out the game on defense. For Self, that was the most frustrating thing of all.
Did Staten travel?
In the minutes after the game, there was quite a bit of immediate talk about Staten’s spinning layup. A couple caveats: It’s generally not advised to blame the officials after a team commits a semi-defensive breakdown, coughs up a five-point lead in the final three minutes and misses a game-winning layup at the horn. But we’re in the business of getting things right around here, so let’s get to the question. Did Staten travel? It appears so.
I saw some people on Twitter complaining that Staten took four steps. That might be a bit of a stretch. But there are a couple things going on here. First, Staten, after picking up his dribble at the three-point line, takes a big spin/hop on his right foot, his pivot foot, creating some space from the defense. (Even that might be a little questionable.) He then takes a step with his left foot, before adding in another baby step with his right to get to the basket.
So, in the end, the following three things are probably true. It was a beautiful move. It was, by strict definition, probably a travel. It was also something the officials are probably never going to call in that situation.
A look at the Big 12 race
After Kansas’ loss at West Virginia, here’s a look at the updated projections for the Big 12’s top four teams over the conference season’s final weeks. For the moment, the Jayhawks are still projected to finish 14-4 and win the Big 12 outright. But Monday’s loss does add some drama — especially if Kansas were to lose one of its three remaining home games. The odds of that happening are low, of course, and the momentary drama could disappear if Iowa State loses at Oklahoma State on Wednesday.
W, 70-59 (88%)
At Kansas State
W, 68-62 (74%)
W, 69-62 (77%)
W, 77-68 (81%)
L, 71-67 (34%)
FINAL PROJECTION: 14-4
IOWA STATE (8-4)
At Oklahoma State
L, 75-72 (40%)
L, 75-71 (36%)
W, 77-74 (61%)
At Kansas State
W, 73-70 (64%)
L, 77-76 (52%)
W, 72-71 (56%)
FINAL PROJECTION: 11-7
W, 67-60 (77%)
At Texas Tech
W, 67-56 (89%)
W, 68-57 (88%)
At Iowa State
L, 77-76 (46%)
W, 71-67 (66%)
FINAL PROJECTION: 12-6
WEST VIRGINIA (8-5)
L, 74-73 (55%)
At Oklahoma State
L, 71-66 (31%)
W, 69-66 (59%)
L, 73-66 (23%)
L, 77-68 (19%)
W, 70-67 (62%)
FINAL PROJECTION: 10-8
The player of the game.
Kansas freshman wing Kelly Oubre can be a streaky outside shooter, but he appears to be finding a groove again. Oubre finished with 14 points (on eight shots) and six rebounds against West Virginia. Oubre, who entered just three for 21 from three-point range on the road, hit both of his attempts from deep. As a result: He posted an offensive rating better than 170 for the second straight game.
The stat of the game.
West Virginia finished with 22 offensive rebounds, further exploiting one of Kansas’ weaknesses in conference play. If the NCAA Tournament really is about matchups, Bill Self will probably hope his team avoids a great offensive rebounding team in the early rounds.